American Idol: The top 12 girls perform
Somebody got the memo or read the blogs or something, because the judges were judging on American Idol on Wednesday night.
Not everyone was "beautiful" or "nice." Some constructive criticisms were shared and Randy Jackson admitted that "we were, I think, a little lenient and a little soft on some of the boys last night," referring to Tuesday's top 13 guys' performances.
When it came to the girls, a couple of the outings were so weak that Randy and his colleagues would have been hard-pressed not to call them out. Baylie Brown and Haley Johnson, come on down.
At the other end of the scale, Elise Testone showed everybody how it's supposed to be done and Jessica Sanchez showed that she can command a stage even with swollen vocal chords.
As a group, I'd say the girls did a little better than the guys, but there were still some clunker notes, some uninspired efforts and at least one contestant who sets my teeth on edge. Here's how I rated them, from best to worst.
Elise Testone: Oddly, two contestants, Elise and Jen Hirsh, covered the same song, Adele's "One and Only." Elise's version blew Jen's away. It had passion, it had gorgeous tone, it had interesting breaks in the notes, it had power and range. And for me, it was the best of the night. "For me, you're one of the best singers, maybe the best singer here," said Jennifer Lopez. "Still, I hope that America got it." Well, if they don't, they're boobs.
Jessica Sanchez: Yes, Randy, I'll marvel along with you: only 16 and already belting it out and working the stage like a pro. Jessica was at a disadvantage compared to the other contestants, with swollen vocal chords forcing her to cut her rehearsal time. We never would have known that when she performed, had we not been told. Although I found the lower parts of the song a teensy bit unsteady, Jessica's big notes were truly impressive. And she was one of the most comfortable working the stage. She got the only standing O of the night from the judges.
Hollie Cavanagh: Hollie's a bit like Jessica in having a surprisingly big voice for such a little girl. Can't say I loved the song choice, Christina Aguilera's "Reflection," but I can't fault the power of the vocals. As Randy noted, the execution wasn't perfect: it was a bit shaky on the first verse and Holly looked pretty nervous, but that was soon forgotten when she let loose on the chorus. (By the way, I was trying to place the accent we heard when Hollie was speaking. I suspect it's a leftover British accent, since she was born in Liverpool, England.)
Erika Van Pelt: First off, I think the makeover is working for Erika. The hair looked great and the plaid shirts are gone, thankfully. I concur with Jennifer that she could have pushed her voice more, but the vocal was satisfying if not edge-of-your-seat fantastic. Too bad she picked the overdone Heart ballad "What About Love?" for her debut.
Hallie Day: This Kim Basinger look-alike didn't just sing a song; she gave a performance. Some points were lost for the wardrobe (sparkly striped T-shirt with black jacket and blue tights? huh?) but gained for the confidence with which Hallie stalked the stage. Aside from a slightly shaky bit in the middle, Hallie delivered "Feeling Good" with a strong, uncomplicated vocal. Steven Tyler said she has a "real old-timey and old-fashioned voice," but Randy was already demanding to know what kind of artist she wants to be. It's her first show, Randy: back off.
Jen Hirsh: Even before Elise's home run, Jen's version of "One and Only" was disappointing. Jen seemed to be pulling her punches vocally. In place of palpable passion, we got fake-looking stage gestures. And when she did reach for a big high note, it didn't quite hit the mark. She certainly didn't live up to Randy's contention that she's "one of the greatest singers in this competition."
Skylar Laine: Points to country girl Skylar for the episode's least obvious song choice, a cover of the Faces' "Stay With Me." But the delivery was all at the same strident level and the dancing was kind of spastic. JLo said Skylar's performance was "like Tina Turner went country now," which makes me think she hasn't seen much Tina Turner.
Shannon Magrane: I guess, according to the judges, we should all be oohing and aahing over this 6-foot 16-year-old. But for me, it was more a case of "Yawwwwn. Is Shannon done yet?" I've never heard of Kathy Troccoli's "Go Light Your World," but I thought it was a boring choice. And, unlike Randy, I hated the vibrato on Shannon's notes. I sort of felt like I was watching someone sing the national anthem at a stadium, lots of pomp, not much substance.
Chelsea Sorrell: I have never been a Chelsea fan and this show-opening performance just reinforced my antipathy. Chelsea's version of Carrie Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" was stultifyingly ordinary. She couldn't always maintain control over her notes, her gestures were hokey and the crouch-dancing was kind of bad. JLo found it a bit nasally, and Steven said Chelsea has to watch her phrasing and timing.
Brielle Von Hugel: Oh dear, the judges praised Brielle, so her ego will get even bigger than it already is. She tried to be sultry at the start of "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," but the notes were too low and she looked like she was going to eat her microphone. Some of the higher parts sounded sharp and I disliked some of her phrasing. Plus Brielle just seems so full of herself that she annoys the heck out of me. And as far as comparing her to Janis Joplin, oh puh-leeze. A little rasp on a couples of notes does not a Joplin make. Also, I do not find her mother Camille charming or humorous, so can we please stop looking at her on TV?
Baylie Brown: As far as train wrecks go, Baylie was certainly a lovely one. But her good looks could not salvage a performance of Lone Star's '"Amazed" in which she struggled to hit notes. As Randy rightfully pointed out, she never seized control of the song. You know it's bad when the judges spend as much time complimenting her appearance as discussing the singing.
Haley Johnson: I think Randy said it best about Haley's version of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams": "It was a bit of a nightmare for me instead of a dream." Haley started out okay then vaulted up into a completely different key and never found her way back. And some of the notes that she couldn't find, she screamed instead. It was a mess and not a hot one. Bafflingly, Jennifer referred to "all of the special things you were doing with your voice there." Is special a synonym for bad?
Now we've heard the top guys and girls, and the votes are in. On Thursday at 8 p.m. on CTV Two, we learn which five of each got voted through to next week and whom the judges choose for wild card picks. And I'll have the recap here.
(The photos of Jessica and Skylar are by Michael Becker for Fox.)